Irish open-source advocates are doing their part to combat software patents in the European Union with a briefing document distributed just in time to give Irelands 16 Members of European Parliament some light reading material over St. Patricks Day.
The document, timed to reach MEPs on Wednesday, was created in response to members own queries about the subject, said Barry ODonovan, an open-source activist who helped draft the brief. It follows an e-mail-writing campaign by Irish academics and developers that began early last week, following the EU Councils official endorsement of the EUs controversial draft directive on software-related patents.
Input from constituents was important because the Councils decision sends the directive back to the European Parliament. "Some of our MEPs are newly elected and would need to be informed about this issue and its history," ODonovan said. The timing with St. Patricks Day was pure coincidence, he said.
The directive is designed to harmonize software-related patent law across the EU, but critics say the current text would have the effect of making pure-software patents enforceable in Europe. This could have a serious impact on smaller software businesses and on European contributions to open-source projects, critics say.
EU software patents would be an advantage to some U.S. multinationals, which would be able to enforce the same software patents in Europe that they own in the United States. They could also remove a competitive advantage for European software companies; currently these companies dont have to worry about the patent litigation that has become a fact of life in the United States.
The current legislative process has turned into a battle pitting the elected European Parliament against the European Commission and the EU Council, which are made up of appointees. The draft directive is now in second reading at the European Parliament, where MEPs have three months to substantially alter or reject it.
Last week ODonovan created a form on KDE.ie to make it easy for constituents to contact Irish MEPs, informing those in the Irish ICT industry and those associated with the University College Dublins computer science department. The result was nearly 400 e-mails, or about 25 per MEP on average, ODonovan said. "This prompted a request from a number of MEPs for more information and how the directive might affect Irish industry and research," he said.
The document was sent out by KDE Ireland, the Irish Linux Users Group and the Irish Free Software Organisation on behalf of their members. The paper and responses from MEPs are available on KDE Irelands Web site.
Ireland already plays an important role in the process around the directive, since the Commissioner handling the matter—Charlie McCreevy—is Irelands former Minister of Finance. McCreevy strongly backs the current text, which is "unfortunate," ODonovan said. "It has certainly given a bad name to the Irish government and its politicians across the free and open-source software community," he said.